Monday, May 21, 2007

Chick Lit Shame

I'm currently reading Karen Joy Fowler's novel The Jane Austen Book Club and it's a perfectly fun, light novel. It has all sorts of enthusiastic recommendations on the cover from reasonably respectable sources such as The Times ('stylish') and The Independent ('wonderful'). The characters make some fairly insightful comments about Jane Austen's books and the plot is coming along nicely. All up, I'm liking this book, however my problem comes from the cover which, in Australia at least, is lemon yellow with the title in embossed gold lettering and some pastel, cartoonish chairs on it. Yes, I seem to have drifted into the dreaded 'chick-lit' territory.

I must be a terrible snob but somehow I don't want people to think I'm reading chick-lit (even the name is offensive, surely no-one uses the term 'chick' anymore?). Somehow the genre conjures up images of desperate single women looking for 'Mr Right' and the perfect pair of shoes. Bleh. But since I avoid actually reading chick-lit, maybe I'm totally misjudging it. In fact, maybe I'm kidding myself when I presume that The Jane Austen Book Club has been mis-marketed and is actually much more sophisticated than its pastel cover would suggest. Maybe it IS chick-lit. It's about women, after all, and relationships, and everyone's outfits are described in detail. Now I'm totally confused. Should I be embarrassed by the pastel cover? Am I a ridiculous snob? And am I actually reading a chick-lit novel after all??


acquisitionist said...

It looks like you too are traversing the chicklit border. We sell this one at work but although we keep it in the popular fiction section, I'm pretty sure it constitutes chick lit. But if you enjoy it, it doesn't matter!

I recently ventured to try Australian author Melanie Labrooy's love struck after insistent recommendations by a few of my workmates at the bookstore. Like you I was put off by the garish cover design - which masked the witty and intelligent content. If you can get past the stigma you should try Labrooy - wishlist was also good. If you go in the bookstore you may have to do a chicklit sandwich, hiding it in between more serious material. ;) Beware, it does have some Mr Right hunting and shoe-shopping though. No worries about the meme, loved reading your similar foray into chick lit.

Dorothy W. said...

I read Fowler's book and liked it pretty well; it didn't strike me as "chick lit," but then I don't read chick lit, so I guess I couldn't say. I certainly get irritated by that label, which sounds so belittling.

audrey said...

I liked KJF's book well enough when I began it, but i found it lacked punch by the final pages. It's not chick lit in the traditional sense though.

You should read Melissa Bank's The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Wonder Spot - they both suffer from TERRIBLE covers, but the content is witty, insightful and moving. TGGTHAF was actually marketed as being America's answer to Bridget Jones, which is just an example of publishing companies bastardising their books to try and sell copies.

Chick lit is a strange territory. I hate the assumption that just because a book talks about women and their lives and their relationships with others and each other that it's somehow worthless beach reading.

A cursory glance at your reading list btw...I like! I just read My Latest Grievance and enjoyed it very much. The central character was suitably self involved yet endearing.

missv said...

I read the Jane Austen Book Club over a year ago and I don't remember much about it. From what I do recall I'd say that it's probably on the 'lite' end of the literary spectrum. I don't like to classify these things too much for much of the same reasons as Dorothy.

If you're enjoying it then you shouldn't feel ashamed but I do know what you mean - if the cover doesn't resonate with your experience of the book it can be very annoying.

verbivore said...

I agree that these labels become problematic (and like Dorothy said, belittling) especially when, for marketing reasons, books get lumped into certain categories but I suffer from the very same fear of snobbery. My concern is always with the quality of the writing and what the book has to say about life - an easy read is an easy read. It might be entertainment and I might enjoy it the way I might enjoy a silly TV show but its not something I'll go back to and think about later, or re-read to get closer to the writing.

stefanie said...

Chicklit is a publishing ploy to sell books to women. I hate it (the ploy). I hate the smarmy covers and stay away from books because of them even if the book might be a fun, light read I'm in the mood for. I wish the publishers would just stop with the chicklit marketing and market them as the regular books they are.

Keris said...

You should check out the chick lit/women's fiction blog I co-edit, Trashionista (

We enjoy chick lit, but don't believe it's a dirty word (or two dirty words!) although it certainly is a feminist issue.


meli said...

Hmmm, you're giving me the courage to post about the less-than-literary books I too dabble in these days... Thanks!

LK said...

I view "chick-lit" as anything that treads into Sex and the City category: prominent sex, shopping and urban chic (such as cool drinks to order in bars). (I guess I'd have to agree with Dorothy that chick lit is perjorative; however, I can't help feeling kind of like an anti-chick-lit snob...Why do sisters have to go through such turmoil???)

Fowler is considered a serious mainstream fiction author. (Check out Sarah Canary, which was written before chick-lit was a gleam in a publisher's eye.)

They are probably trying to rope in a larger market by with pastels, figuring the cute colors and the word "club" would trip up some of the chick-lit readers.

jess said...

Thanks for all the comments- they make for great reading!

I have finished The Jane Austen Book Club now, and yes, it is very light but it's also a fun read (although not one that I'll think back on too often). This 'chick lit' thing is all about marketing, isn't it? I totally agree that the name is belittling, but it is also being used to pass off some pretty bad writing from what I can see. As for what makes 'bad writing'... well that's a whole other debate.

Thanks for the recommendations for other books- I'll definitely keep my eye out for those. In the meantime I'll avoid the pastel covers and enjoy some 'women's literature' in the form of Virginia Woolf.

be_zen8 said...

I enjoy chick-lit and feel utterly guilty about it. I didn't really enjoy Fowler's work, but there is a lot of totally absorbing chick-lit out there. I like Monica McInerney and Sharon Owens..